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May 31-June 6, 2006

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Cult Leader

Cult Jukebox

By Steve Palopoli

GREAT MOVIES can inspire great songs. Bad movies can inspire great songs, too. Cult movies inspire the best songs of all, since they inspire the most fervent devotion. I've been thinking about songs based on movies—I don't mean theme songs or songs about the general subject of movies, but the tributes born out of a movie fan's true love for a particular film. Here are five of my favorites; a "bonus track" will be posted here soon on this page. I'll do more at some point in the future, so email me your own top picks.

'Debaser' by The Pixies "Got me a movie, I want you to know! Slicing up eyeballs, I want you to know!" This is not only the best song Black Francis ever wrote, but about the most fitting tribute to Luis Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou I can imagine. Like the film, it's cool and scary and only makes as much sense as it needs to—and really, not even that. If somehow this isn't Surrealist enough for you, try the insane, mondo-deconstructo cover by the Japanese band Feed.

'Chainsaw' by The Ramones The greatest thing about this song is that it's not about gore or Leatherface or anything like that; it's a doomed-puppy-love ballad about how Joey Ramone's sweetheart is apparently trapped in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre house and "she'll never get out of there." The second-greatest thing is that he pronounces it "Texas Chainsaw Massa-cree", so that he can rhyme it with "They took my baby away from me."

'Vampira' by The Misfits Since this was written by ultra-horror-geek Danzig, no one should be surprised that the lyrics reference the original title Grave Robbers From Outer Space, but in any case this is the best pop-culture spin-off of Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space. In a love song to the "mistress of the horror kid," Our Glenn demonstrates that he would not be afraid to do the wild thing with the titular (in more ways than one) actress. "Come a little bit closer!" he demands repeatedly, and you can just imagine the buff little guy sitting on his couch chanting it while he watches the movie on Channel 7. (Speaking of which, I could never make heads or tails of the Damned's "Plan 9, Channel 7," which is too bad because that's a great title.) Runners-up for best Misfits cult-movie song would have to be "Astro Zombies," followed by "Night of the Living Dead." I never liked "Return of the Fly," even if the chorus does feature the amusingly dumb lyrics "Return of the Fly/ Return of the Fly/ With Vincent Price/ Yeah, Return of the Fly."

'Promising Actress' by John Vanderslice "What about those unsettling chimes that run through it, and words of a gun and a mysterious cowboy?" the All Music Guide wrote about this song. "These ... questions make the listener queasy, but dizzy with enjoyment." What the hell are they talking about? This song is obviously about David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. In fact, it reveals the "solution" to the movie's narrative mystery without being too obvious about it (the line "like a bomb in reverse, fragments of the truth return" is a good example), so if you're stuck after watching it, give this a few listens. Bonus points to Vanderslice for making the whole album this is off of, Cellar Door, fun for film nerds. The album title is a Donnie Darko reference, and "When It Hits My Blood" is about Requiem for a Dream. I assume "Wild Strawberries" is about the Bergman film, but I can't figure out any actual connection between the lyrics and the movie. Maybe the apparent reference is actually an ironic joke, since the song mentions a Ford, and "wild strawberry" was once a factory paint color for Mustangs.

'Cyclops Rock' by They Might Be Giants I don't know if the main character in this song is the Cyclops from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. I don't know if he's even a real Cyclops. Doesn't matter. What I really want to know is: is this song referencing Child's Play or what? "I won't die, like Chucky won't die" and all that? The thing that sucks is that I'll never get to ask the Two Johns about it, because they are not down with questions like that. I already tried to ask them once if Dr. Worm is an actual worm, or just a guy called Dr. Worm, and they seemed pretty annoyed. You'd think they would have been swayed by the fact that my friend Scott Warden and I had actually made a bet about it, but no, they definitely were not.

Cult Leader is a weekly column about the state of cult movies and offbeat corners of pop culture. Email feedback and your pick for worst film ever here.

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